Sean Wilentz: Romney is Captive to the Far Right

Roundup: Historians' Take

Sean Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton University.

The 2012 presidential campaign may seem like it’s all about the economy, but it’s really being driven by the chief political development of the last 30 years: the Republican Party’s movement further to the ideological right.

Mitt Romney’s attempts to win over his party’s increasingly hard-line base forced him to tack far to the right to win the nomination — which, after his campaign nosedived in September, required him to tack back and present drastically contrasting stances on a wide range of issues.

Compare the Republican Party’s current positions with those of its hero, RonaldReagan. Myths of Reagan’s rigid conservatism abound now, but in the end, what made him a success was precisely that he was not wedded to a hawkish view of the Cold War and how to wage it.

After the Iran-Contra scandal nearly wrecked his administration, Reagan dismissed the neoconservatives involved, embraced reforming Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev and forged an agreement on arms control that hastened the Cold War’s conclusion....

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